Reward or reinforcement: what's the difference?

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. Summer-Fall 1989;13(2-3):181-6. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(89)80028-4.


The histories of the terms "reward" and "reinforcement" are reviewed to show the difference in their origins. Reward refers to the fact that certain environmental stimuli have the property of eliciting approach responses. Evidence suggests that the ventral striatum (nucleus accumbens area) is central to the mediation of this behavior. Reinforcement refers to the tendency of certain stimuli to strengthen learned stimulus-response tendencies. The dorsolateral striatum appears to be central to the mediation of this behavior. Neuroanatomical and neurochemical data are adduced suggesting that reward may be mediated by a neural circuit including the neostriatal patch system, together with the hippocampus, limbic system (amygdala, prefrontal cortex) and ventral pallidum. The evidence also suggests that reinforcement, in the form of dopamine release in the striatal matrix, acts to promote the consolidation of sensori-motor associations. Thus, the matrix may mediate stimulus-response memory as part of a circuit including the cerebral cortex, substantia nigra pars reticulata and its projections to thalamic and brainstem motor areas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Limbic System / physiology
  • Memory / physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Reward*


  • Dopamine